How can responders assist parents with their children affected by a manmade or natural disaster? Respond from your actual or anticipated vantage point.

Courage to Commit Chapter 5



Vignette: Jeff and Jimmy

While driving through a residential neighborhood, a police officer Jeff notices a man, Jimmy, sitting on the curb. He is obviously experiencing extreme emotional distress. Officer Jeff approaches and tells Jimmy he noticed him and is wondering what’s going on with him. Jimmy responds that he came home and discovered that his wife of 25 years had packed several bags and left a note saying she was leaving him. He was very surprised and overcome, and doesn’t know what to do now. Officer Jeff offers to stay with him for a little while, and asks if there is anyone he can call to come and help out. Jimmy says he doesn’t have anyone to talk to, and he is very worried about what will happen now. Officer Jeff mentions the services that are available at the Family Guidance Center and offers to call and request a counselor to help Jimmy.

Introduction to the Chapter

Officers may assume incorrectly that subjects or disputants in the field can separate their intellect from their affect—in other words, that they can separate a seemingly logical discussion about a problem from the pent-up feelings that they are experiencing inside. They cannot. And we need to be prepared for this and understand how to reduce the tension that is present so we can assist the citizen and also do our jobs. To the contrary, the individual’s perception of their world will enter the situation and must be understood by the responding officer. Without this appreciation of the citizen’s perception of reality, the officer cannot be expected to effectively deal with the behavior of the subject or the disputants. Here will be addressed the need for awareness of the potential for, and the prevention of, crises within this intervention process, and for appropriate intervention if prevention did not occur and crisis behavior is exhibited. Such intervention may allow the problem solving to go forward effectively.

Sometimes officers get involved in volatile situations without adequate appreciation for the risks and

stressors involved therein. This can be seen as the “coffee-klatch” mentality that is pervasive when it is assumed that those needing or seeking help come to discuss their dispute in a calm and reasonable manner. Those asking for help may be on the verge of experiencing crisis in their life, and will experience crisis after your encounter with them is complete. Because this seems to be so, crisis intervention training, the unrecognized elements, should be part of all training given to officers and supervisors.


Definition of a Crisis

Crisis occurs when unusual stress in a person’s life renders them unable to cope with the world utilizing those personal mechanisms normally available to them. Crisis intervention is the effective intrusion into that person’s life in order to defuse a potentially disastrous situation before physical and or emotional destruction results or is exacerbated. The potential stress and tension may be at maximum levels before, during, or immediately following officer involvement. At these times, the citizen may experience extreme feelings of fear, anger, grief, hostility, helplessness, hopelessness, and/or alienation from their self-concept, family, and society. The experience may be pervasive and produce a sense of anxiety, disorganization, chaotic thinking. The person may feel overwhelmed and immobilized. At this point, the person will look to the officer to provide structure in a world that seems to be falling apart. The officer is often required by circumstances to take emotional control until the person is able to restore their own coping mechanisms and regain self-control. To the same degree that it is vital to stop bleeding from an artery or a vein to save the life of an accident victim, it is equally vital to realize that people bleed emotionally as well. If this emotional wound is not given immediate and effective attention, emotional scarring and even death may occur. It is at this point that the officer’s role is broadened to include crisis intervention.

The field officer’s success as a crisis intervener will determine if the problem-solving process can

continue. Until the crisis has passed, the problem solving cannot continue. The emphasis of crisis intervention is on immediate response rather than on short-or long-term counseling. The goal of the officer in this context is to (a) reduce emotional trauma and (b) return the individual to pre-crisis levels of functioning. Often an uncomfortable role for the officer due to lack of training and preparation, it is nonetheless a vital role in determining the eventual success of the primary process. Therefore, awareness of the need for and training in, the process of intervention must be considered as important to the training of the officer as is the settling of points at issue.


point. The stress necessary for the crisis point to be reached may be caused by a single event, several events happening in a person’s life at the same time, or by stressful events occurring serially. Whether one event or more than one event will cause enough stress to create a crisis varies with the individual involved. Each day of our lives, we face trying experiences with reasonable success depending on our abilities, backgrounds, and mental strengths. Differing amounts of stress are necessary to create a crisis depending on how well we have developed our abilities to cope. Moreover, no one is immune to the crisis experience. For some, a single event may create enough stress to produce a lack of structure and hence a crisis. For some, it may take several events to create this overwhelming experience. Either way, when the single, combined, or cumulative stress makes it impossible for the individual to handle life as usual, crisis becomes an inevitable reality.

At the point of crisis, the effectiveness of behavior begins to decline. The resulting behavior is seen as

maladaptive in order to distinguish such behavior from mental illness, which may resemble such behavior. The major difference here being that, if the source of the crisis were to be removed, the crisis would cease. The same behavior representing mental illness would not immediately go away if the source of stress or conflict were removed. Maladaptive behavior is directly related to the immediate crisis and may or may not be representative of additional problems. Persons who are mentally ill may also suffer from crisis; those in crisis may or may not be mentally ill.

The intervening officer must attempt to interrupt the line of maladaptive behavior as indicated on the

Crisis Cube. The more timely and skillful the intervention, the quicker the victim can be helped to recognize and to utilize personal and societal resources, to return to their previous level of functioning, and consequently to be able to continue the problem-solving process with all necessary faculties. If the line of maladaptive behavior is not interrupted, functioning may continue to deteriorate. If there is any good news in all of this, it is that crises are self-limiting. They will not continue unabated. If the officer did nothing to intervene, eventually the crisis experienced by the victim would cease. The problem with nonintervention is measured in degree of deterioration of functioning as indicated on the Crisis Cube. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the timeliness of skillful intervention and the need for psychotherapy or other treatment for the victim subsequent to the management of the crisis. The longer the crisis continues, the greater the likelihood that additional or even on-going treatment will be necessary later. The obverse, obviously, is that if intervention is attempted in a skillful manner, additional harm may not be done. The old therapy training maxim that “if you don’t help them, at least don’t hurt them” not only is nonapplicable but also is a fallacy. As a result of the officer’s contact with the victim, the victim/citizen will be affected or changed in some way. One thing seems very clear: whatever happens, things will not be the same as a result of the intervention, whether that intervention is skillful or lacking in effectiveness. If we are able to recognize the potential for crisis, learn how to prevent its advent, and finally be prepared to act should a crisis occur, the intervening officer can increase the possibility of success within the intervention and problem-solving process itself.

Such prevention, preparation, and available skills can also provide for the increased safety of all parties to the field encounter or attendant to the process. Recognition of Maladaptive Behavior

An officer’s effectiveness is strengthened through the identification of those individuals who are about to experience crisis. The person who is prone to crisis can be characterized by several indicators. These include the following:

1. An alienation from lasting and meaningful personal relationships. 2. An inability to utilize life support systems such as family, friends, and social groups.

3. A difficulty in learning from life experiences so that the individual continues to make the same mistakes that they have made over and over again and that may have potentiated crises in the past.

4. A history of previously experienced crises that have not been effectively resolved